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Roundtable: Money And The Mayor's Race, Convention Center Vote, Development Developments

October 11, 2013 1:10 p.m.


Alison St. John


Joe Yerardi, inewsource

Tony Perry, LA Times

Andrew Keatts, Voice of San Diego

Related Story: Roundtable: Money And The Mayor's Race, Convention Center Vote, Development Developments


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: Joining me at the KPBS roundtable today are Andrew Keatts of the San Diego daily transcript, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times, and Joe Yerardi of inewsource. So Joe, we know that you've been up late last night, looking at the latest on the money from the mayor's race. Last night was the deadline for campaigns and committees to declare how much they've raised so far in the race for mayor. And the grand total is more than $2 million. They're still weeks away from the actual primary. Why is this deadline so important for understanding the money in the mayor's race?
YERARDI: That's a great question. The reason is up until now, we've seen a portion of the campaign's fundraising and expenditures. Only donors who gave over $1,000 had to be reported. Yesterday we got the first full picture of every single dollar raised and spent by the mayoral campaigns and crucially by independent political committees that are supporting them.
ST. JOHN: Okay. So let's first of all remind the listeners who all the candidates are. We have Nathan Fletcher, David Alvarez, Kevin Faulconer, and Mike Aguirre. Give us a thumbnail of how in fact they came out. Who got the most money?
YERARDI: Sure. In terms of top-dollar amount of contributions, David Alvarez and the committee supporting him raised the most money. They raised over $1 million. After him, Nathan Fletcher and the committee supporting him. They had almost $800,000. Then councilman Kevin Faulconer and his comity got a little over $600,000, are then trailing is former city attorney Mike Aguirre. He only raised a little over $3,000. Of
ST. JOHN: And I think what's interesting about this is the disparity between the special interests and the smaller donors. Gave us a breakdown of who got the most individual donors.
YERARDI: In terms of individual donors, campaigns are only required to list donors who gave at least $100. Now, are that still accounts for over 95% of all the campaigns fundraising. It's not a 100% tally, but it's pretty close. And Kevin Faulconer got the most. He raised his money from almost lev unique don't ors. Nathan Fletcher got it from 1,000 donors.
CAVANAUGH: And Mike Aguirre contributed quite a bit to his own campaign.
YERARDI: That's right. A $1,500 check.
ST. JOHN: And how much did the pacs give? Are they dominant in each race?
YERARDI: Yes, very dominant in the mayor's race. Ands reason is, these independent committees, they're prohibited from coordinating with candidates' campaign, but they are specifically established to support those candidacy. And unlike campaigns where there are strict limits on the amounts of money they can raise, they can can raise unlimited amounts of money from business, are individuals, unions, any group or entity you can imagine. So they're very powerful. And they have been very powerful in this race. David Alvarez in particular has been a major beneficiary of them. The labor council established an independent committee to support him, and they've raised only $900,000.
ST. JOHN: So Tony, it looks like the limits have been raised this time. There's more money pouring in than ever before. I know that you have said that perhaps money is not the deciding factor in the mayor's race. But how important do you think it is?
PERRY: Well, we've seen a number of well-funded candidates lose. So it's not a determinant factor. What I find interesting, clearly Alvarez, he's the labor unions man, Faulkner is the business community's man, Mike Aguirre is his own man, and the one that interests me is Fletcher, the former Republican/independent/Democrat. Whose man is he? What do we know about Nathan Fletcher from looking at his contributions?
YERARDI: It's interesting. You nailed it. David Alfred very reliant on the labor unions, Faulkner, reliant on business people and interests. Nathan Fletcher, the types of people supporting him, it's a mix. He's gotten some union endorsements and union money as well. He's also gotten plenty of money in various small business owners. One group in particular that might not be a surprise, he is a former Qualcomm employee, he's gotten a lot of donations from Qualcomm employees, including the Jacobs who gave over $60,000 to an independent committee supporting him.
PERRY: So while we're all laughing at -- not all, but while Fletcher is getting laughed at for this evolving political view he seems to have from Republican to independent to Democrat, and certainty the Union Tribune editorial page has run a campaign against him. And Tony Krvaric is running a Twitter campaign against him, what you're saying is what we think is funny and a weakness may be a strength! That he's been all over the place, and everybody can see something in him they like. Business, labor, whoever.
ST. JOHN: Andrew?
KEATTS: I think one thing that's really important, to differentiate this race, it's got such a short timeline. So not only is that important on its own, it's also important for Faulconer and Alvarez who've never run for office. And being a councilman, you're not very well known outside your district. So they need to introduce themselves to everybody. And the only way to do that is with a lot of money. So while it's true that we've seen well-funded candidates lose races in the past, just a year ago, Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio had far more money than Bob Filner and still lost. But the different thing here is no one knows who Kevin Faulconer is, no one knows who David Alvarez is. Their name polling is awful. Mike Aguirre, as little money as he raised, he's won a city election. So if you're going to go out and introduce yourself, you can't shake every hand in the city. You need TV, mailers, that costs money.
PERRY: I'm not sure it's a short campaign. Campaigns, people really only plug in the last few weeks. We're interested in day 1, but real people running their elevators every day, only in the last few weeks. So I'm not sure. It'll lengthen out if we go to a runoff. You'll have half of November, all of December, maybe all of January. So before one of these folks emerges and takes over that seat, we're going to be at this a while.
KEATTS: Yeah, I think you're right. I think this is a good example of the fact that the the campaigns we normally think about are way too long. People spend too much time doing it, and no one is really paying attention. But the way that normally plays out is every couple weeks, somebody releases a plan, here's my platform to help the environment or improve water quality or adjust water rates. Then in the last month of the race, when everybody does tune in, you can point to your resume and say I've collected all these endorsements, put out all these reports, and normally it happens over the course of a year. There's just no time for that right now.
ST. JOHN: We haven't gotten to the fact that voter turnout might have more of an impact on this race than just the money. But thank you for filling us in, Joe. KPBS will host a mayoral debate with the top-4 candidates in the race this coming Monday, live on KPBS radio at noon, and on KPBS television at 5:00 PM. So tune in for that.

ST. JOHN: Now from the campaign for new mayor for San Diego to the campaign to win approval of the convention center expansion in downtown. More than half a billion dollars, the expansion of the downtown convention center is one of the most important developments in the region. And last night, the California coastal commission voted to approve the plan. In spite of objections from their staff. So Tony, you've been covering this. Why do you think the commission decided to vote for it in spite of the reservations their staff had? And tell us what the reservations were.
PERRY: Well, the coastal commission act says basically you ought to do two things: Protect people's access to the coast, and their view quarter, but you also ought to help economic development and allow people to build on the coast. Two contradictory sorts of ideas. The staff has always leaned toward let's protect the coastline. They were against the original convention center, the midway, and the commission overrode them. Commission members all had concerns, all bowed to the staff a little bit and said, yeah, it does block some views, and yeah, it does build out real close to the water, and yeah, it really is kind of boxy. But I thought the county supervisor, Greg Cox did it best, he said when we want to start worrying about having a waterfront with open vistas, that ship sailed a long time ago. We got hotels, we got the original convention center, all sorts of things. So in the end, they went with that. Although I thought it was wonderful because I thought we were getting in that long, long debate yesterday what we're not getting in the mayor's race, frankly, which is really different views on how San Diego should proceed. We had the labor idea, and the business folks saying build build build. Then we had the environmentalists and attorneys saying let's not build, we're walling off this wonderful thing called our bayfront.
ST. JOHN: So you're talking about the fact, I think, are that the building was there, there's only a small amount of space with a view to the bay. But they did have a good design element to it, and described how the expansion would in fact perhaps provide more views of the bay.
PERRY: Well, it would go from the existing center toward the water. So it really wouldn't block your view if you were out on the street. But it would allow the Hilton to build right next to the current Hilton. That would block the view largely speaking from that wonderful new library that we have. And the commission wrestled with that. Will then of course you had the whole Chargers issue. And they submitted documents saying reject this. We have a better idea. Off of the coast rhine, back a few block, are down a few blocks, and let's build a convention center/stadium.
ST. JOHN: It's interesting because your article said it was a catch 22 for the city because we had to go with the expansion to keep Comi-Con but if we go with the expansion, do we lose the Chargers?
PERRY: It was Comic-Con versus Chargers, in some ways. And they went with Comi-Con of Todd Gloria says we can have both. We're a world-class city. Although the rejoinder is if you're a world-class city, you don't have to keep saying that. New York doesn't say that. But he says world-class cities have pro football, we're going to try and save the Chargers. So we'll see. But it panned out economically. 7,000 new jobs, 3,000 regular jobs. Additional spending in the city, 13.5 million dollars in tax revenue if they expand, keep the beloved Comi-Con but also get even bigger convections or more lucrative conventions, read "the doctors", get them to come. So the numbers were against the esthetics, are the view and assessment
ST. JOHN: So the numbers for the benefits were pretty enormous. But some people say the costs to the public might be bigger than is issuing estimated.
PERRY: In theory. And there's some talk that this five acre park on the roof is not going to attract people. And there was talk about how about a better bridge? Port district said well, yeah, that's $42 million that we can't afford. And is this all in court. This is San Diego. We litigate everything we can. Petco Park was litigated, the expansion of Qualcomm was litigated. This thing is being litigated the way they're teeing it up as finance mostly by a surcharge that the hoteliers approved to slab onto to mom and dad coming and staying in the Hilton.
ST. JOHN: Andrew, you've covered developments a lot. This is one of these choices about whether you invest in big downtown projects or neighborhoods.
ST. JOHN: Do you feel like this is from your analysis --
KEATTS: Yeah, I think they created a relatively novel design concept with this large park on the roof of the building. And I think there's an interesting question about whether anybody from the city or anybody from outside the immediate area surrounding the convention center is ever going to use that thing. I live in goldon hill, it's about 20 blocks away.
PERRY: It's like going to somebody else's backyard for your picnic. If you had questioned me, I didn't know you could go over that bridge and play around!
KEATTS: The idea that anybody is going to drive down to the convention center and park their car at a paid lot so they can walk up four flights of stairs to be at a park that's going to be filled with conventioners wearing little placards, are it's just silly. It's not going to happen.
PERRY: Or the Comic-Con people in their costumes. That'll scare you away.

KEATTS: That said, it is pretty. And the alternative seems to be just a roof that literal no, no one will be there for. But the argument that it is a good replacement for having readily available coastal access strikes me as absurd on its face.
ST. JOHN: Joe, have you had a look at the plans? It does look pretty attractive with the green grass on the top. If you are a San Diegan downtown, would you take your individualing relatives perhaps to the roof of the convention center to look at the bay?
YERARDI: The roof of the convention center? It's crazy.

YERARDI: If I lived downtown, and I guess this gets to the question then, we hear this in the campaign too now for mayor, everyone talking about downtown versus the neighborhoods. And this seems to be one of those issues again. Is this just something that people downtown are viewing as more sort of the politicians paying attention to downtown in expense of the neighborhoods?
PERRY: Downtown is becoming the new punching bag. It used to be developers. Of the recession stopped growth pretty well. So now we're punching downtown. And the financing supposedly is going to be this surcharge so when you come and check into a downtown hotel, the hoteliers decided to slap on a surcharge. Being challenged in court, won the first round, could lose the additional rounds. So it isn't a lot as it is teed up, not a lot of general fund money that could otherwise build something in Northpark or Tierra Santa.
KEATTS: And it's not just a southern charge on downtown. It's a southern charge on a sliding scale through the entire stay. So basically what they did -- it depends on how far you are. They basically put concentric circles emmating from the convention center, and the one closest to it has a 3% charge that goes into paying for this fund, are and the next circle has a 2% charge, and the next circle, a 1% charge. So even if you're staying at San Ysidro, 1% of that pay is presumably saying your stay there had something to do with the convention center.
PERRY: And the reason it was fashioned like this is the hoteliers, papa Doug Manchester among them, are prolifically powerful in this city. And to have gone to the public and ask them to slap some additional money onto the transient occupancy tax --
ST. JOHN: Because they would not be willing.
PERRY: Would have gotten opposition from the hoteliers, because we're not going to get the direct benefit. So they went to the hoteliers and said direct benefit from you --
ST. JOHN: Is this actually quite possibly going to take years to litigate?
PERRY: Well,s Chargers spokesman said you're going to fuss around in court for years while the core of the Chargers' plan withers and dies, and financial realities being what they are, the moving vans may have to arrive, and away they go to some place dreadful like Los Angeles, potentially.
ST. JOHN: Well, are let's leave this megaproject and move to something more manageable.


ST. JOHN: The kind of development that we see filling in empty blocks somewhere in the neighborhood, perhaps with trendy condos build with sandwich shops right underneath. This is what is known as in-fill development. And Andy, you've written about an interesting new group of architects who are sort of changing the paradigm of development. I think there's a certain amount of negativity in San Diego about denser development.
KEATTS: Yeah, what Tony just said, the proverbial whipping boy in San Diego is always the developers. This faceless group that we don't like that is the developers who bring bad things to our neighborhood. And what these folks are doing, and there's maybe a dozen of them out there, they're architect developers. So they're designing their own projects and developing their own projects, which normally architects are just contracted employees to go and do some drawings for somebody's plan. So it means they can do these sorts of projects that are specifically tailored to the neighborhood that they want to go into. And crucially on very small lots. So they can find some little lot and say we need to build a lot of units in San Diego to decrease the cost of housing. But we don't need to do that everywhere. So if we can find this little small lot and build two dozen units here, that's fine. We can do it. And they develop in such a way that they basically find the most they can build on a lot based on the zoning without having to trigger a review process that's going to bring them before the planning commission or the City Council. So they just build there. They find that threshold and just say, okay.
ST. JOHN: We hear so many fights about people trying to change the general plan, and the developers just pushing a little further on this. Now you're saying it is possible to do these in-fill developments without pushing.
KEATTS: Yeah, they have their own complaints with development services and the city and whether the code is good. But they basically say it just costs time and money to get in these fights. So even if we think that there should be more here, even if we would like to build more here, it's worth it for us not to. So they just say, fine, you want 24 units? You got them. I'm going to save the six months to 12 months fighting for it and move onto my next project.
PERRY: Does this fly in the face of something that was once considered a San Diego achievement? It the community planning groups! And their involvement and their power? If seems like what we're talking here is a way around those folks and how to keep it out of politics and just kind of grease the skids.
KEATTS: Well, there are certainly some people in the community planning process who would see it that way. The natural rebuttal, of course, is it's the community planning groups who came up with these thresholds in the first place. In the community planning process and in the zoning process, they decided, well, are we want 24 units here, and if somebody builds 24 unit, they can just build and go away. So their perspective is the community planning group is the one who decided what's going to go here. We're just giving them what they said we wanted.
PERRY: Well, if I live across the street from one of these, and I don't like it, other than writing a flaming letter to the editor, can I appeal to the planning commission?
PERRY: To the City Council?
KEATTS: No, it's by right development. They've already got the right to do it.
ST. JOHN: This is where the rubber meets the road. You write in your article that it really all comes down to parking, whether you can provide enough parking for the people in the building so neighborhoods don't complain.
KEATTS: City zoning builds in all kinds of different ways what the parking requirements are per the square foot of office space or retail space or number of housing units you come up with. So one of the developers says in my piece, if you imagine a curve, you're going up, and your profitability is on one side, and the number of units on the other, you reach a point where you and maximize your profitability while complying with the parking regulations. But then at a certain point, you need to build a parking garage. And once you need to build a parking garage, then you need to build three more units to get profitable again. So you find that area right underneath where you need to build a parking garage, and just build.
ST. JOHN: We have two different generations, Tony who is perhaps loathe to see these denser developments going up across theed radio. Correct me.
PERRY: Absolutely.


PERRY: I want to move to Rancho Bernardo.


ST. JOHN: And a large house with a 3-acre garden, and ranch-house type style.
PERRY: We've been through this before in San Diego, and it started a revolution that ended up with planning groups. That is to say, let's build things, small things, let's not worry about parking. Let's just get a lot of units in, and keep everything below the radar. And it started a revolution that ended up with Pete Wilson as mayor, and such things, and the community planning groups. So we're kind of recycling back in some ways.
ST. JOHN: Well, that's because times change. Explain why it is that we're in a different environment from even ten years ago.
KEATTS: Basically we're laying constraint in San Diego, you hear if all the time, we've Pendleton to the north, Mexico to the south, the ocean to the west, and eventually you get to desert. So we've basically developed to the extent of our ability to development. The greenfield development where you just plow an area and start putting up housing units has mostly happened already. But that doesn't mean the population has stopped growing alongside it. So in order to accommodate the population, there's really no choice but to develop in denser ways.
ST. JOHN: And how does that appeal to you, Joe? An urban core where you can walk to the store in five minutes and the cinema in ten minute, and you don't have a lot of space? Does that seem like not the future that you would foresee for yourself? How do you see the difference between the urban living and the suburban living?
YERARDI: We live in the park above the convention center.

ST. JOHN: This is the choice we're facing as San Diegans. How do you feel about them?
YERARDI: The fact is, are rents are high enough as they are. And I can never even think about buying a home here. Prices as they are right now, the more housing stock that's available and is being built, the better. And if it is in a location where restaurants, with community attractions, places where people want to hang out or where people work, I'd certainly be attracted to it.
ST. JOHN: Tony's concerns I think are very well understood because of the lack of public transit. Is that sort of the -- it's parking, public transit.
PERRY: Sure. They build these neighborhoods and then have the level of services to provide for them, parks, community centers, transportation, etc, are at one level. And then you make them dancer and move more people in. This happens in planned units too. Take Rancho Bernardo, people moved in, and then a lot more people moved in, and people went hey! It's really crowded around here! Well, yeah, I think you could see that if this trend continues, people who moved into a certain area, and then boom. More people than they banked on.
KEATTS: I do want to reiterate that they're developing to the standards that were established in the community planning groups am the
ST. JOHN: Good reminder.